Greek European Culture

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Why only Turks learn Turkish

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House

As I read in an interesting post at Hellenic Antidote, the Turkish newspaper Zaman published an article where the author, Mehmet Kamis, wonders “why the French and British empires managed to leave behind their languages and cultures whereas the Ottoman empire, much to Kamis’ regret, in the areas it dominated never succeeded in making Greeks, Serbs, Arabs and the rest ditch their own languages in favour of Turkish, never succeeded in making Turkish the lingua franca in the Balkans and Middle East”?

“Kamis’ answer to his own question is that, unlike the French and British, the Turks never established state-sponsored missionary schools to educate the vanquished and this was because the Ottoman empire, unlike the European empires, was not a colonial or exploitative enterprise but an empire of peace and love which allowed non-Turks unfettered freedom to live as they pleased and to express unmolested their language, religion and culture.”

As Hellenic Antidote reminds, “this is such an absurd portrayal of the Ottoman empire, such a bizarre parody and inversion of the objective truth, which is that the Ottoman empire was the most degenerate, depraved, corrupt, backward, wicked, malignant, pernicious, squalid and cruellest institution or set of institutions known in human history, that it crosses the border from stupidity – from which you can train a person to see the errors of his ways – and enters the realm of delusion and psychosis – where a person will stick to his demented beliefs to the bitter end.”

Hellenic Antidote recognises feelings of humiliation and resentment in the article of Mehmet Kamis, and concludes that these “tell us a great deal about modern Turkish identity and, indeed, go a long way to explaining the Pontic genocide, the burning of Smyrna, the Constantinople pogrom in 1955, the barbarism in Imvros and Tenedos and in Cyprus during and following the Turkish invasion of the island. What Kamis reveals is that delusion about Turkey’s paradisiacal past, and humiliation and resentment towards those who allegedly ruined it, continues to dominate the Turkish mind and inform Turkish state policy; all of which means that for the foreseeable future Greece will have to remain on its guard against the knife-wielding maniac on its doorstep.”

So far so good, but the question is not answered: why the French and the British managed to leave behind their languages and cultures whereas the Ottoman empire, never succeeded in making Turkish the lingua franca in the Balkans and Middle East?

This is not a difficult question. To leave a culture behind you, you need to have one. British or French may be oppressive, colonial, imperialist, and all the evils of the world – but they have a Shakespeare, a Baudelaire, a Valery, a Rimbaud, a Blake, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, Keats, Dickens, Eliot … …

Nations who had contact with them, a pleasant contact or not, had also the choice to be influenced by this real and existing culture. What Turkish literature could and should influence the Greeks? Why should the Greeks learn Turkish? To study and be inspired by what?

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  1. Vasiliki, Melbourne Australia

    The only reason Greeks should learn Turkish is so that they can communicate the Word of God to many of the Turkish people who want to learn about Christianity and are oppressed, because they have no resources … Only through the Internet they have their doors open to real education and freedom …

  2. Manolis

    I’m not Turk and I am learning Turkish.
    And Christianity is not the word of God.

  3. The post is not about people who need to learn Turkish because they work in Turkey, etc., but about the cultural strength of Turkish.

    The cultural strength of Turkish equals nothing, since all great literature is written in languages other than Turkish.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature